California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s strongest net neutrality rules into law Sunday, but the federal Justice Department quickly sued to block him, arguing he was interfering in federal powers to set national communications standards.
The law seeks to prevent broadband service providers such as Comcast and AT&T from slowing access to some websites, or otherwise playing favorites among content on the internet.
The Obama administration had tried to force the same rules nationally, but the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission overturned those rules in a decision that took effect in June.
Net neutrality has become a rallying cry for liberal activists and younger Americans, who complain of corporate priorities they say are at odds with what they want to see in internet governance.
They had cheered California’s attempt to force the Obama-era rules back into effect through state legislation.
But the Justice Department said the law runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government the power to set rules for interstate commerce — and that, they said, means the internet.
“The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our constitutional order. We will do so with vigor,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, said California’s law was not only illegal but also anti-consumer, since in outlawing favoritism it also blocked plans that saw companies pay to offer data-use free content. Under those plans, a movie streaming company, for example, could pay a broadband provider to make sure use of that service didn’t count against a customer’s monthly data limit.
California’s law is the latest in a string of fights the state has picked with the Trump administration.
Last year the state legislature adopted a series of sanctuary laws protecting illegal immigrants and confounding federal immigration authorities’ attempts to enforce immigration laws.
California and the Trump administration have also clashed over the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty and President Trump’s proposed border wall.
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